Being over 40 in medical school

For those of you doubting your abilities and chances in medical school, here is an inspring story from MomMD member Wendy "Will" Chamberlain.

"I turned 40 last summer and started medical school this fall. I am a mother of 4, most of whom are grown up although I still have one child at home, my 9 year old daughter.

I earned a BA in Humanities in 1982. I had wanted to go to medical school way back then but my husband was dead set against the idea, and so I decided to put it on hold temporarily. We divorced after seven years of marriage. Having to support my family, I ending up taking a job as a medical transcriptionist, liking its close proximity to medicine, and because it paid decently. I ended up working as a medical transcriptionist for 10 years.

Later, I ended up working in a hospital pathology department and I asked to be allowed to watch an autopsy . . . it was during the autopsy I realized I had to go back to school and try to get accepted to medical school. The autopsy was so awe inspiring; while I watched the medical examiner open up the chest of this patient, I got a lump in my throat, goosebumps on my arms, and told myself, "I have to do that!" It took me two years from that moment before I could financially find a way to start taking the med school prereqs at my local community college -- I was 36 years old.

While working in hospitals and medical clinics, I never told anyone how much I wanted to go to medical school. It was a dream too vulnerable to be held up to the criticism of others. Even when I started the prereqs, I rarely told anyone why I was doing it; I don't think I really believed myself that I would make it. My plan was one foot at a time, one semester at a time, the MCAT, the applications, the interviews; all of it went by with me never really being sure that I would get in. It wasn't until I got the MCAT back and did well enough on it that I started telling anyone my plans. And it wasn't until I had seven interview invitations that I started to believe I might get accepted. And I still knocked on wood every time I dared to talk about the possibility of getting accepted!

I have changed a lot in these last four years. Somehow the process of dreaming a dream and not giving up has made my priorities very clear to me; and it has made me much less vulnerable to the opinions of others. Like many of you, I am sure, I had always worried that I was not doing enough for others, wasn't good enough, didn't do the right thing or enough things for my children, my family, my friends. Semester by semester, as my dream became more and more real, I too seemed to solidify.

Saying no became part of taking care of myself, my family and my dream. At one time, I couldn't imagine that saying no could ever feel like a good thing. These days saying no (and saying yes sometimes) is self-validation -- I have a dream that is too precious to risk. Anyway, I did get accepted to medical school, and by more than one school. It IS really tough -- the workload has been a big adjustment. But mothers, more than anyone, I think, are good at adjusting -- we have already found that we can get used to anything!

And it certainly has not been without sacrifice. My last serious relationship broke up because of my acceptance to medical school. In fact, I talked to my ex-boyfriend just a couple of days ago. During the conversation, he said, "If you would just give up this medical school thing, we could be together!" I worry that another relationship will be hard to come by -- all of my classmates at school are almost 20 years younger than me and I don't even really have time for a social life. On the other hand, my daughter is doing very well. We spend time together every day and this time is one of the high points of my day. And she is pretty understanding when I am a little cranky while studying for an exam. So we are managing.

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